On 23 August 1944, an American United States Army Air Forces Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber crashed into the centre of the village of Freckleton, Lancashire, England. The aircraft crashed into the Holy Trinity Church of England School, demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar. The death toll was 61, including 38 children.
Two newly refurbished B-24s, prior to delivery to the 2nd Combat Division, departed USAAF Base Air Depot 2 at Warton Aerodrome on a test flight at 10.30 am. Due to an impending violent storm, both were recalled. By the time they had returned to the vicinity of the aerodrome, however, the wind and rain had significantly reduced visibility. Contemporary newspaper reports detailed wind velocities approaching 60 mph (100 km/h), water spouts in the Ribble Estuary and flash flooding in Southport and Blackpool.
On approach from the west, towards runway 08, and in formation with the second aircraft, the pilot of B-24H-20-CF Liberator, US aircraft serial number 42-50291, named “Classy Chassis II”, 1st Lieutenant John Bloemendal, reported to the control tower that he was aborting landing at the last moment and would “go around”. Shortly afterwards, and out of visibility from the second aircraft, the aircraft hit the village of Freckleton, just east of the airfield.
Already flying very low to the ground and with wings near vertical, the aircraft’s right wing tip first hit a tree-top, and then was ripped away as it impacted with the corner of a building. The rest of the wing continued, ploughing along the ground and through a hedge. The fuselage of the 25-ton bomber continued, partly demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar, before crossing Lytham Road and bursting into flames. A part of the aircraft hit the infants’ wing of Freckleton Holy Trinity School. Fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited and produced a sea of flames.
In the school, 38 schoolchildren and six adults were killed. The clock in one classroom stopped at 10.47 am. In the Sad Sack Snack Bar, which catered specifically for American servicemen from the air-base, 14 were killed: seven Americans, four Royal Air Force airmen and three civilians. The three crew on the B-24 were also killed.
A total of 23 adults and 38 children died in the disaster.
The official report stated that the exact cause of the crash was unknown, but concluded that the pilot had not fully realised the danger the storm posed until underway in his final approach, by which time he had insufficient altitude and speed to manoeuvre, given the probable strength of wind and downdraughts that must have prevailed.
Structural failure of the aircraft in the extreme conditions was not ruled out, although the complete destruction of the airframe had precluded any meaningful investigation.
Noting that many of the pilots coming to the UK commonly believed that British storms were little more than showers, the report recommended that all U.S. trained pilots should be emphatically warned of the dangers of British thunderstorms.
A memorial garden and children’s playground were opened in August 1945, in memory of those lost, the money for the playground equipment having been raised by American airmen at the Warton airbase. A fund for a memorial hall was started, and the hall was finally opened in September 1977. In addition to a memorial in the village churchyard, a marker was placed at the site of the accident in 2007